By on October 5, 2015

Nissan Sentra SE-R

The Nissan Sentra SE-R was often compared to Nissan’s OG hot sedan — the 510. With decent power and handling in a three-box profile, I can see the resemblance. The factory limited-slip differential helped put all those whopping 140 horsepower to the ground better than most other front drivers.

And that SR20DE engine also pulls a premium the week before Race Wars.

For several years, I was a serial beater buyer. I’d drop a thousand bucks — often less — on a cheap car, drive it until it cost too much to repair, then head back to Craigslist for another helping of crapwagon.

As my $400 Accord had just popped a head gasket, I decided to spend a bit more on an “interesting” car. It was the spring of 2008 and I’d found a 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R about twenty minutes from home. The car was relatively rust free as it had been towed behind an RV for most of its miles. The clearcoat on the black paint, however, was peeling like my pasty skin after a day at the beach.

This 1991 SE-R looks like a cleaner sister to my long-departed car, though the two-hundred-thousand-plus miles is a concern. The seller notes that the car needs some bodywork, but I don’t notice anything in the pictures given on eBay.

There aren’t many good ones left, so this particular SE-R may be worth the work.

As for my car, it was one of the few beaters that left my driveway intact. That fall, my second daughter was born, and I couldn’t fit her rear-facing baby bucket behind me. Thus, the crapwagon cycle continued to a $300 Volvo wagon.

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42 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Not at these miles. And with unspecified “bodywork needed,” I’d pass.

    Get a G20 instead for the same engine, in a nicer (much newer) car with four doors.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Mileage doesn’t matter much at this point, unless it’s a time capsule. G20 is an alternative, but it’s also significantly heavier.

      Some wacky part of me wants to split the difference and pick up an R10 Presea.
      http://www.carfolio.com/specifications/models/car/?car=243980

    • 0 avatar
      JimR

      I had a P10 G20 manual. Nicer street car with better handling out of the box, but noticeably slower in a straight line.

      My SE-R rolled past 200k+ last year, and still going hard after years of track, autocross, and RallyCross abuse.

      The G20 became less pleasant once its entry-luxe features like leather, power windows, power trunk pop, etc. wore out by 200k miles. The SE-R was exclusively crank windows, cloth, manual HVAC blend controls, and other cheapness, so it has less annoyances to break. I ultimately had to replace fifth gear in both of them, though.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    THat Nissan was good enough it reminds of the better Datsuns of yore as mentioned, the 510.

    Back when it was Datsun some considered the brand akin a Japanese BMW, albeit mass merchandised.

    No one would make that mistake today – the BMW part – not the mass merchandised.

  • avatar
    ser140

    I’m the proud owner of one of these for the last 18 years. Finding one these days without mods and low mileage is basically impossible. Also, I wish we could have more two door cars like this one today. Everything is four doors, bah! not interested! The only 2 door options today in a lower price range are the Civic, VW GTi and Kia Forte Koup.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    I loved every moment with my B13 SE-Rs. I had a 96 G20 and an 00 Sentra SE that also had that wonderful SR20 engine. These have mostly rusted away up here in Cleveland, but I will definitely find another one day :)

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Too much money, too many miles, you’ll have to deal with the fun of automatic seat-belts in a little car, and “original owner” doesn’t always mean what you think, half the time its some chump who buys the car for pennys on the dollar just to flip it.

    I’m with Corey on the G20 idea, but its been my experience that both Sentras and G20s are a bit rare.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      B13 Sentra coupes didn’t have automatic seat belts. The belt mechanism was rigidly installed in the door, and you were “supposed” to leave the buckle latched all the time (which nobody ever did).

      low-res Motorweek review of a ’92:
      youtube.com/watch?v=89bfe0jEYMo

  • avatar
    ajla

    Everyone knows that the G20 and Sentra SE-R were the same car.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I think it was about this time Nissan advertised (at least in Canada) that, they were the company whose cars had the most horsepower in their base configurations compared to immediate competitors. Would love to see them take that route again, but those cajones left the business a long time ago.

  • avatar
    k9H20

    Oooh, ooh! I had one of these! Fun car. Watch out for 5th gear popout, its not an if its a when.

  • avatar
    EAF

    Absolutely loved this car! They always referred to them as “the poor man’s M3.”

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Who is “they” in that assertion?

      • 0 avatar
        EAF

        Did I strike a cord? It wasn’t my intention. I thought it was widely referred to as such? When I say “they” I mean those who I formerly raced and wrenched with, some of them E30 & E36 owners.

        I think the comparison was spawned from “fun factor” as opposed to track prowess, I can’t say definitively. You’ve never heard this reference Corey?

        Incredibly-not-accredited super random examples;

        forums.vwvortex.com/showthread.php?6126811-1991-Sentra-SE-R-modern-equivalent

        And

        http://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-asian/curbside-classic-1996-nissan-200sx-se-have-we-met

        And

        https://www.edmunds.com/nissan/sentra/1991/consumer-discussions/

        And

        usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/autos/2001-04-11-nissan-side.htm

        And

        forums.motortrend.com/70/8920094/the-general-forum/the-cool-japanese-cars-thread/index.html

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          “Poor man’s BMW” is NOT the same as “poor man’s M3.”

          Can you understand the difference? Or is there just a dyslexia issue here.

          PS. Forum examples of fanboy owners absolutely do -not- count for anything.

          • 0 avatar
            EAF

            CoreyDL’s meaningless rants and personal opinions on this blog hold more weight than anyone else’s meaningless rants and personal opinions on other blogs.

            Get off your high horse guy. Many people made the comparison to BMW (& M3’s) back then as evidenced by those random links. The proclamation is not mine, I never drove a 1991 SE-R in a competitive setting. Have you?

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Nobody said M3 in those links. Not one. I think I saw a 318 referenced, which was not at all an M3 either.

            Get your reading glasses, pal.

            I’m gonna go on a message board and find someone who says their Miata is “a poor man’s Mercedes-Benz.”

            Then I’ll come back here and post some links and say, “The Miata is like an SL55 AMG. Everybody thinks so.”

      • 0 avatar
        energetik9

        “Who is “they” in that assertion?” – I’m guessing the “they” was only Nissan SE-R owners. I’ve never heard this. It’s no where near the same class of car.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      More like Poor Man’s 318is, which was itself the Poor Man’s M3.

      Or even closer, the Poor Man’s Jetta GLi 16V.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Its a Jetta that rusts to bits in 10 years, but yet the odometer will still be rolling.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          I’d argue they rust not much worse than mkI or mkII Jettas, which is more so an insult to the VWs than any praise to the Nissan. I still see beater Sentras of this generation with regularity, I haven’t seen an mkII Jetta in years. I’m sure most of that can be explained in the Nissan’s mechanical/electrical durability rather than corrosion resistance. South of the border in Mexico, these Sentras really shine. No rust to worry about and their incredibly tough and easy to repair nature keeps them going on awful roads and limited repair facilities.

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        The going discussion back in *the day* was more like the SE-R was a Japanese interpretation of the 2002…which is why I bought a 1991 SE-R the day after I graduated college in 1992. Stupid-fun car. Basic, but I did opt for the sunroof. 140HP shouldn’t have been that much fun, and it escaped most people’s radar. The irony of this is that I eventually sold the SE-R to buy a…1974 BMW 2002 (as that has been and always will be *my* dream car).

        I’d not mind a clean SE-R as a DD, but as has been said already, good luck finding one not modded in some form or fashion.

        • 0 avatar
          otter

          I understand. A 2002 has also always been one of my dream cars, but I’m not sure I’ll ever buy one because I’m not willing to ever get rid of my SE-R, which I’ve had for 22 years. And I salved the dream-car itch by buying an air-cooled 911, which was #1 on my list. :) I wouldn’t be afraid of the mileage if the car was maintained well. Mine has 220k on it and the first thing to fail was the starter at 180k. Currently getting rod bearings.

    • 0 avatar
      joeveto3

      I’m 44 and I’ve owned 32 cars — everything from a 335i BMW to Miatas (still have one in the garage), to Corvettes, to MR-2’s, to 4Runners, to Priuses and everything in between.

      One of my first cars was a 91 Nissan Sentra SE (the non-SE-R version of the car pictured). It was red on black with a 5-speed. And it was perfect. Great revvy engine, tight handling, nice 5-speed, awesome ergonomics and look-and-feel-like-Recaro seats that were a combo of black fabric and tweed.

      I loved that car so freaking much…though I did wish it was an SE-R. I just couldn’t afford an SE-R. At the time, I could barely afford the SE. At $12,000 it was a stretch for me.

      I keep a running database of every car I’ve owned, ranked in order of my most favorite. The Nissan is number 2, behind a GTI I had. If I really thought about it, the Nissan might be number 1. It’s nearly a toss up. The car was that good.

      Living in the cold salty Midwest, I don’t see these anymore. They all were rode hard, put away wet, and then rusted to nothing. Too bad.

      Yes, it really was a poor man’s BMW. Even the SE.

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    I like that the Sentra SE-R seems to have always been equipped with an LSD… And wish my car came with one.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Its too bad that Nissan with the Sentra SE-R and Toyota’s Corolla FX-16, SR-5 never continued to build these compact performance models into the next generation. At least Honda still offers the Civic Si as well as Subaru’s WRX.

  • avatar
    jetcal1

    I looked at both the SER and the g20 in 1993. Nobody would deal on the SER. The g20 had dual airbags, (No mouse belts) better level of equipment including leather and cost $1,700 more. Insurance for the SER was just over $1,100 a year it was under $400 a year for the G20. And, the G20 came with a loaner car program. No brainer. 9 years and 170K, repairs were a diode, and the ABS actuator. And the dealers were decent.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Base configuration of this generation. It was multi valve engines and 4-sp automatic that made this Sentra a decent highway car back then. No more 4 bang penalty buzz box.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      That’s interesting to note because you could argue the current Sentra is returning to those roots with the current model, which holds very low rpms on the highway and is in general well regarded as being a very comfy and efficient commuter car.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    This was right in the middle of the period when the Japanese automakers could do no wrong. Left and right, they were cranking out beautifully built, lightweight, tossable, fun, well-equipped, comfortable cars. This is the same era that got us the revolutionary 5th-gen Civic, the 4th-gen Accord that was only the BEST COMPACT FAMILY SEDAN EVER, the Lexus Lite 3rd-gen Camry, the first Miata, the 4DSC, and the MR2 Turbo.

  • avatar
    CriticalMass

    Bought a ’92 new. And it’s still here. Most fun car of the 41 others that have come and gone. Not because it’s the best or fastest and certainly not the prettiest. Maybe it’s because it’s always so willing. It begs you to go out and play. The SR-20 engine, both turbo and NA, should be in some engineering hall of fame somewhere as one of the all-time great engines. Still sought after today. So, crapwagon? Maybe. Especially if it lived in salt. But fun? Oh yes.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    I wanted one of these so bad in ’91. All the car boards at the time (on Prodigy, etc) and magazines were comparing them to the small BMWs of the time and as far back as the 2002. A buddy of mine had one that I drove frequently and I was always amazed. Super smooth, strong, 7K (as I recall) redline. I went into the Nissan dealer, picked out a white one with all the options. Went back a few days later to pick it up, carrying a check from USAA and they changed the price on me. So I left and bought something different. A couple years later I bought a loaded G20. It was not nearly the fun car that the SE-R was, and, not that I condone street racing, I was outrun in a straight line and in the twisties by my friends SE-R.

  • avatar
    acehunter

    Still driving my ’92. It just passed 326,600 miles.

  • avatar
    CriticalMass

    CBRworm – Red line is 8K. Which it still sees with regularity. And it was on Car and Driver’s 10 Best list for all four years of the B13’s run IIRC.

    acehunter – Good onya! I’m only at 215K but I know a few others on SE-R.net who have gone past 400K.

    Chris Tonn – This one still rides/drives pretty much like new due to continuing maintenance. Every 100K I replace the lower control arms, end links and shocks. Rear control arms at 200K. Not because either was a necessity but jut to keep the ride “new”. Brakes when needed and flush everything every 30K or 18 months. Has needed a half shaft three times and they are replaced with new not reground. One alternator replaced. One clutch. That’s it except for tires. Lots and lots of tires but that’s down to me and the other family members who have driven it. I never have had the feared 5th gear popout but Courtesy Nissan in Dallas sells a reasonably priced kit for that. I can’t believe it still has the original water pump and even the original exhaust (it’s stainless steel)! I don’t think it would have any rust on the body at all if it had not spent three winters in the salty North. So, there will be more dollars spent on it sometime but notice there hasn’t been any engine difficulties in that run. Just new wires, hoses, Mobil 1 every 5K and such. But the best part – I’m teaching my grandson to drive in it. Kids these days, lucky rascals.


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